4 Tips To Help You Stay On Your Feet This Winter Season

The holiday season is a time for Joy, laughter and sadly falls. Approximately 70% of all hospitalizing falls occur between the months of December – March; while falls themselves are commonly highlighted to be one of the leading causes of loss of functional independence [1].

With this drastic change in falls, we must take action to prepare ourselves for this winter season. Seasonal falling is highly correlated with colder temperatures, snowstorms and ice storms [2] which here in the Maritimes we are no strangers to the above. Below are a few strategies to be mindful of for this coming winter:

1. Preparation

As we all know, the weather here can be variable day to day, so it is important to have things in place to assure safe day to day activities. Having salt for your walkway/driveway readily available, having a shovel nearby or better yet someone to help shovel for you, and lots of outdoor lighting can all be great tools to preventing unwanted slipping. With sundown coming earlier, it is important to have adequate lighting outside to assure visibility is at its best. It is hard to prevent falls from occurring, when you cannot see them coming [3].

2. Staying Active

Typically, during the winter months, older adults and elderly populations show a decline in physical activity [4]. Here is the catch-22, it is harder to get out and exercise, but the decline in exercise has been related to an increase in falls. A key to overcoming this would be in-home assess to exercise equipment or partake in local indoor walking programs commonly seen in hockey rinks, local gyms and malls. 

3. Getting Traction

We all like to think we have great winter boots until we start sliding. A good set of winter boots goes a long way for falls prevention. Make sure to check your tread on boots every winter to assure they are still intact. Surprisingly, only about 8% of winter boots (out of the 100 tested) met minimal resistance standards placed by the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, in their winter lab. A quick guide individuals can use to see if their footwear is up to par can be found at www.ratemytreads.com [3].

4. Yes, use that cane!

Yes, use that cane! If you are questioning whether or not you require a gait aid, the answer is likely yes. Physiotherapists have outcome measures we can use in the clinic (Berg Balance scale etc.) that can help predict whether or not someone needs a gait aid, however if you are reading this at home and think you might need one, better safe than sorry until you have an assessment. Utilization of a cane or walker for community dwelling older adults as been shown to reduce the risk of winter falls, and non-serious environmental falls [5].

Falls can be attributed to many things besides the environment. Make sure if you are experiencing an increase in falls, dizzy spells, or unprovoked falls, to consult your health care provider. Have a safe and happy Holidays!

References:

  1. Campbell AJ, Spears GF, Borrie MJ, Fitzgerald JL. Falls, elderly women and the cold. Gerontology. 1988;34(4):205-8.
  2. Morency, Patrick, Corinne Voyer, Stephanie Burrows, and Sophie Goudreau. “Outdoor falls in an urban context: winter weather impacts and geographical variations.” Canadian journal of public health 103, no. 3 (2012): 218-222.
  3. “Preventing Winter Falls That Can Result in Serious Injuries: Philips Lifeline ®.” Philips Lifeline, 2004, www.lifeline.ca/en/resources/healthcare/connections/winter-falls/.
  4. BCGovernmentNews,Toptentipsforstayingfall-freethiswinter, www.news.gov.bc.ca
  5. McKiernan FE. A simple Gait‐Stabilizing device reduces outdoor falls and nonserious injurious falls in Fall‐Prone older people during the winter. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2005 Jun;53(6):943-7.

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